California wine country produces a lot more than just grapes. Because of the mild climate, there are excellent local fruits and vegetables all year long. The nearness of the Pacific guarantees impeccably fresh seafood. And artisanal food purveyors are producing wonderful cheeses, salumi, and condiments.
Napa Valley Italian restaurants
With a more ambitious menu than most Italian restaurants, Bistro Don Giovanni is a popular spot in downtown Napa. Starters include an excellent Pumpkin Ravioli in brown butter sauce with sage, Carpaccio, a cheese plate, and a salad of beets and haricots verts. Pizzas emerge from the wood-fired oven thin and crispy. Try fig, caramelized onion, gorgonzola, arugula, and Balsamic vinegar. Paccheri with a Sonoma duck Bolognese and rabbit cacciatore are just the thing on a cool, fall evening. Or you could opt for grilled California sea bass or steak frites.
If you can, grab a table on the outdoor terrace near the fireplace. Bisto Don Giovanni’s owners run Scala Bistro in San Francisco and they change the menu with the seasons. As you’d expect, the wine list is very good. Reservations are a good idea, especially on weekends.
Uva Trattoria & Bar is usually jumping. In fact, they have jazz five nights a week. So this isn’t the place for a quiet, romantic dinner for two. But it’s a convivial place with good food and a lively bar. The little fried rice balls called arancini are an addictive starter. Weekly specials might include baked gnocchi with burrata cheese and pomodoro sauce, bucatini al’amatriciana, and pan-roasted sea bass. In addition to the specials, there are usually five or six pizzas, ten pasta dishes, and three or four entrees.
Celebrity chef/Food Network TV host Michael Chiarello opened Bottega in the old V Marketplace in Yountville a year ago. Zagat named Bottega the top newcomer of the year and Esquire included it in their list of the Top 20 new restaurants. The design is casual but modern with brick walls, stone fireplaces, and plenty of couches for lounging. Although it’s a huge space, it’s divided into more manageable areas, and the patio is very inviting. This is not the place to watch your figure. The soft boiled egg in the Pecorino cheese flan is deep fried. And green eggs and ham comes swimming in Cambazola crema. The salumi is made in house and the crudo is sensational. All the pastas are made from scratch and sauces made with duck, rabbit, and chanterelles are hearty and filling. Braised lamb shanks, short ribs, duck confit, and whole, wood-oven roasted fish are the stars of the secondi.
Ten years ago, Chiarello was the partner/chef at Tra Vigne in St. Helena. One of the most romantic restaurants in the valley, it has a lovely vine-covered patio that seems like it was plucked from a Tuscan hill town. It’s magical at night when the trees are dressed with little white lights. Inside, the stylish dining room has brick walls, high ceilings, and a hand-carved bar. Papperdelle with rabbit ragu and wild mushrooms, carbonara with guanciale and organic eggs, and duck confit risotto pave the way for wood-oven roasted Dungeness crab and pan-seared Quinault River steelhead. The 200-wine list changes frequently.
Just around the corner on Main Street, Pizzeria Tra Vigne serves authentic Neapolitan pizzas in a casual setting. The garlic rolls are perfect for taking the edge off while you wait for your pizza, but they’re hard to stop eating. There are several salads, pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and shrimp fettuccini, and a nice selection of oven-baked flatbread with salad on top. But it would be a shame to come here and not order pizza. Traditional pies like Margherita and Ducati with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes compete with unconventional pizzas like Positano with gulf shrimp and fried lemons, and Gardiniere with brocolli, cauliflower, and spicy garlic soffrito.
Sonoma Valley Italian restaurants.
Sonoma is one of the most charming towns in California Wine Country. Shops, hotels, and restaurants line its 19th-century plaza and there’s a farmer’s market on Tuesday evenings in summer.
The Della Santina family comes from Lucca, Italy, and they’ve been serving Tuscan-inspired cuisine in Sonoma since 1990. They found a beautiful old stone building to house their restaurant. You’ll find all the usual pastas and entrees — the gnocchi della nonna is especially good — but what’s really special here are the spit-roasted meats. You can choose from chicken, pork, rabbit, or duck. Or if you can’t choose, you can order skewers with three different meats. The 3-course dinner special is a good value at $30 per person. On Tuesdays, they have a prix fixe menu that features Italian wine pairings. If the weather’s nice, opt for a table out on the brick patio. There’s a nice selection of wine for less than $40 a bottle.
It’s hard to visit wine country without enjoying all the world-class restaurants. But sometimes, you just want a pizza and a cold draught beer. If you’re in Sonoma, Red Grape Pizzeria is a great spot. They have dozens of wines by the glass and many bottles for around $30. You can start with an antipasto, one of the tasty flatbreads, or a salad. If you don’t want pizza, there’s a nice selection of wraps and Panini — who doesn’t want pork and brie with caramelized onions and sliced green apple. The imaginative pizza list include clams casino with apple wood-smoked bacon, roasted duck and gorgonzola with a Cabernet reduction, and shrimp scampi.
1) Bistro Don Giovanni
2) Uva Trattoria
4) Tra Vigne
5) Pizzeria Tra Vigne
6) Della Santina’s
7) Red Grape Pizzeria